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Big Ten backs ready to carry load


With a 400-yard rushing game against Nebraska – in just three quarters of action - Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon became a household name and a leading Heisman Trophy candidate overnight.

With four 200-yard rushing games for Nebraska last season and more than 4,500 career yards, Ameer Abdullah hasn't hurt for attention either.

Those Big Ten standouts, along with Georgia star Todd Gurley, have gotten the bulk of the attention amid predictions that at least one running back will be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft for the first time since 2012.

But Abdullah wasn't even a first-team All-Big Ten selection. That honor went to Gordon and Indiana running back Tevin Coleman, who joined Gordon as the only backs in the nation to top 2,000 rushing yards.

Ohio State sophomore Ezekiel Elliott ranked third in the nation in rushing but wasn't eligible to declare for the draft. Neither Elliott nor Michigan State standout Jeremy Langford were named All-Big Ten, with the spot beside Abdullah on the second team going to Minnesota standout David Cobb.

"It's one of those things when you're in a group of guys and you see those big names, you want to stick your chest out a little bit and you just want to compete," Cobb said. "That's what I'm here to do."

A dozen running backs in college football's Power Five conferences topped 1,500 yards last season, and half them played in the Big Ten. While Gordon and Abdullah appear to be locks to be selected in the first two days – the first three rounds – of the draft, the Big Ten could possibly boast of Coleman, Langford and Cobb also being selected before the close of the third round.

"The Big Ten is a physical conference. Teams like to run the ball and stop the run," Langford said. "We want everybody to get drafted out of the Big Ten. That's the respect we have for one another."

Langford's exclusion from both all-Big Ten teams truly speaks to the quality of running back prospects in the conference. He finished last season with 1,522 yards, including 100-yard efforts in each of his last 10 college games, and tied a school record with 22 rushing touchdowns.

But Langford isn't one to get caught up in accolades and adulation.

"When I get love – it can come, it can go away, so that doesn't run my motor," Langford said. "I had a successful year. My team went 10-2. It all works itself out.

"I've been the underdog my whole career. I'm excited to get to perform on the same platform as everybody else and let that do the talking."

That's a sentiment shared by Cobb, who embraces the opportunity to prove people wrong but doesn't harp on what others think. He certainly proved his worth while helping Minnesota reach a New Year's Day bowl game for the first time in 53 years, rushing for 1,626 yards and 13 touchdowns.

"I'm the ultimate competitor and when I get a chance to go out there against those other guys, bigger names, I have the biggest chip in the world on my shoulder," Cobb said. "I like to compete, and I'm very confident."

Cobb's approach to the draft itself isn't as aggressive.

"My goal is what it's been since I was little – to play in the NFL. So first or seventh (round), it doesn't really matter to me," he said. "Everyone wants to go first round, but the reality is it's not going to happen. Whenever my name is called, I'll be ready."

While Cobb, in theory, is the running back among the Big Ten quintet least likely to be drafted in the first three rounds, Coleman is the one most likely to steal some of the spotlight.

Supposedly under the radar at Indiana, Coleman rushed for 2,036 yards. He was a Doak Walker Award finalist alongside Gordon and Abdullah, finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting (Gordon was second) and led the nation with six rushing touchdowns of 50-plus yards.

"There are a lot of great guys in this 2015 draft, a lot of great backs out here," Coleman said. "I'm just out here working hard, trying to be that guy drafted in the first round."

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